Oh, so many ideas sparked and things to say!
First, yes we need a new language. Because the reason we fall on the sword of sports metaphors and war language is because its something that almost universally everyone understands. If you ever kicked a ball with a group of kids or had to hunt for your food, you know in your bones what “us vs. them” means, and how it applies to you when you are trying to have your needs met.
And TJ nailed it when he said it is all war. Both the baby and the garden require inviting some things in (us) and keeping some things out (them).
So when you are trying to rally a group of people around an idea you are excited about, you inevitably have to use language that answers their question “What’s in it for me?” Will this idea give me something, or take away something? Do I want what’s being offered or taken? Even if what the person wants is to collaborate and participate in shared leadership, they will be individually assessing how likely this idea is going to fulfill this very personal need.
And their assessment is going to be based on the structures they are familiar with. “Climbing the corporate ladder”. “Survival of the fittest”. “Compensation”. “Keeping up with the Jones-es”. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s much easier to assess how well you are doing using the old language of money, power/influence, and status as your currency rather than the new language of happiness, camaraderie, and well-being.
I agree with Johnny that “transcend and include” may not be the answer.
I am focusing these days on what it means to “transform”. How do we take these structures that we are all familiar with, knock them down a bit, gather up the bricks, and build something new with it? Build something that people are not scared of (because they can see it’s still the same bricks that they are familiar with) but are willing to look at with new eyes, because “there’s something different about it.”
Of course, therein lies the real challenge. Getting people to open their eyes! I too have had lots of corporate and non-profit leadership experience. And its frustrating and debilitating to be “working” with people who aren’t interested in “collaborating”, “sharing”, or building something. They want to sit back and be taken care of! They want the good stuff to be given to them, the bad stuff taken away, while the current of everyone else’s work carries them along. If you are stuck on a team with these folks, you have to resort to the language of sports and war if there is the slightest chance of motivating them at all. “If you don’t get this work done, you will be fired.” (Fear of compensation loss) “If you don’t come to this meeting, we will kick you off the project.” (Fear of loss of status)
And this is my problem with most “organizational development” or “team building” philosophy. It assumes that with the right tools, language, or environment, that even the laziest person in the room will eventually join the party and contribute. My experience tells me this is not the case. For every overachiever, there is a poser who just wants the gold star for showing up. If there is no threat of war (loss), there is no desire for peace (happiness).
So what do we do?
For me, personally, in addition to this concept of “transformation”, I am also exploring the possibility of allowing people to be the individuals that they are, with the freedom to come in and out of groups as their needs are met. Yes, we may be “stronger together than we are apart”, but when the need to be “strong” no longer exists (because the challenge has been met, the goal achieved) then staying together for the sake of staying together makes no sense. Let each individual break away for a while to self-sustain, or to search for another group to meet another need. This philosophy accommodates those people who want to stand still. And allows people who are excited about a common idea to continue to move forward without being slowed down by the sticks in the mud.
The only “catch” I see with this philosophy is that there still needs to be a certain expectation of commitment when you join the group. You have to agree to adhere to the group rules, to show up, to do the work, and to be accountable. So there is still a reliance on some of those “old” structures just to give the group a foundation on which to operate.
Collaboration is tough, Marco. You have to balance the needs of the organization (to get things done) against the needs of the individual (to have their needs met, no matter what they might be.) If collaboration is desired (or requried) then Everyone has to be willing to play the game (sports metaphor), exhibit sportsmanship, agree on what the goal is, and do their part to support the team. If someone is not willing to commit to these terms, then collaboration with them is not possible. And it’s OK to let them go.
Until we are all born with the innate understanding that having our own personal needs met requires other people having their needs met, we are stuck using language to try to bridge the gap between “us and them”.